M&L Supply Fire and Safety
In 1993 Mark Prendergast, founder and president of M&L Supply Fire and Safety (M&L), decided to turn his hobby into a life-long career. “I’d been working as a volunteer firefighter for about 18 years,” he recalls. “I loved the line of work so much that I wanted to continue and turn it into a full time position.”
In August 1993 Mark and wife Lori started M&L from their kitchen table. “My son was born in August so here I was starting a brand-new business with my pregnant wife; it was kind of crazy,” shares Mark.
“Before starting M&L I was working for a competitor for about a year-and-a-half,” he continues. “I didn’t like his business methods and they way he treated me, so I decided to venture on my own. Some of the suppliers I worked with said they would support me and things started to take off.”
Since then the fire equipment and safety products retailer has grown into a team of 10 sales representatives, six service technicians and a full time office staff of 11 based in Ingleside, Ontario. “The kitchen table was getting a little crowded,” jokes Mark.
Mark says his 24 employees have just as much of a say in M&L as the company’s executives. “I’m not big on titles,” he adds. “I draw on my staff for valuable information daily; their input can overrule me at any time; it’s just as much their company as it is mine. Most of our people have been with us since day one. Some have actually left to become full time fire chiefs or go to school, but most have been here for the past 21 years.”
Today, M&L mainly serves Ontario; however, the company has sold throughout British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. “We’re progressing a little into the upper Northeast, but we need to be fully comfortable in the Ontario market before taking on too much,” explains Mark. “Before we go anywhere out of our range we get permission from the manufacturer, because we don’t want to step on the toes of a company who already features the same product line. It’s about respectful competition.”
Trusted, Industry-tested Products
As M&L has grown, so has the company’s product line, which represents many of the most innovative and dedicated equipment manufacturers in the industry. “Many of our sales representatives are actually firefighters themselves,” reveals Mark. “They’ve had experiences where the product has either saved their life or made their life easier so they can really sell based on personal experience.”
Mark also notes that M&L will only add a product to its lineup if it can stand up to testing and high standards. “We get 10 to 12 new manufacturers every year that want us to sell their product, but we won’t do so until it’s gone through a years worth of evaluation,” he explains. “We have to believe in it and if we don’t we won’t sell it. I like to look in the mirror and know I’m doing the right thing, and when I sell a product I can sleep at night knowing it can save a life.”
According to Mark, approximately 80 percent of M&L’s sales are with municipal fire departments throughout the province. “We work directly with fire stations and buy direct from a set network of trusted manufacturers,” he notes. “We are venturing into the mining and forestry industry, as well, because we’ve had to expand as the market gets smaller and more competitive. We’ve found that products such as thermal imaging units can be used across industries.”
The company sells every essential industry tool from nozzles to saws. “We’re known for our Task Force Tips [TFT] product; it’s one of the fastest growing nozzles in the industry and it comes with an outstanding warrantee,” adds Mark. “It was even featured on the How’s That Made television show.”
M&L also sells the Cutters Edge ventilation saw. “They manufacture this product in a smoky environment and there are extra filters added so it can run with a lack of oxygen,” explains Mark. “We also distribute product for AMCUS, the Jaws of Life manufacturer, from Ontario straight across to the Atlantic Ocean.”
However, Mark says M&L doesn’t supply anything it doesn’t back with full maintenance. “We back our products from cradle to grave,” he says. “We can service it and fix it from the day the product is purchased to the day it’s finally laid to rest. We’re known for the longevity of what we sell. Some fire departments still operate some of the very first products we sold to them.”
An Evolving Industry
Although M&L has established itself as a trusted retail and service company, Mark says business is increasingly difficult in a shrinking, highly competitive market. “This is a unique industry, but there are about 10 other companies doing what we do in Ontario alone,” he notes. “Things have changed a lot from the days when a salesman would come directly to the door, now we deal with a frustrating tendering process. You have to get three bids and the CAO to recognize the fire department’s need. Sometimes they don’t understand that cheaper is not better.”
Mark adds that there is also a growing number of American companies in the market. “For a long time everything we sold was Canadian-made, but as the global industry gets smaller and there’s more American buy outs that number is reversed,” he notes. “We now sell about 85 percent American-made and 15 percent Canadian-made, but we’re still proud to say our products are made in North America”
Despite recent challenges, Mark says M&L had an unbelievable year in 2012. “We have our staff and loyal customers to thank for that; without them we wouldn’t be going anywhere,” he shares. “My son is entering the company and our plan is to grow and expand the industrial side and increase our online presence.” Although many things have changed within the industry over the past 21 years, M&L Supply Fire and Safety remains a trusted source for life-saving products.
For more information about M&L Supply Fire and Safety, please visit: http://mnlsupply.ca/fire/.